When I saw the email come into my inbox, I knew I had to be involved. Turn Up the Heat, a celebration of women chefs raising money and awareness to fight ovarian cancer, how could I not? I’m a woman, I’m a chef, I’m a survivor. That email particularly called out to me. I am an 11-year survivor of fallopian tube cancer, ovarian cancer’s evil twin. It’s a very rare cancer, lumped with ovarian cancer and treated with the same protocol as ovarian cancer. I have also owned two restaurants, and I’ve had years of experience in the kitchen. I have made more pizzas, linguini, salmon Florentine, and lived through more dinner rushes, than I care to even think about! And last but not least, I am passionate about altering the face of this horrid disease, cancer, by changing what we put into our supermarket carts. I have set this lofty, near impossible, goal for myself since my diagnosis, of changing the face of cancer.
I clicked on the Turn Up the Heat link in my email, and I liked what I saw: The 10th annual fundraiser for Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, held at the prestigious Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, with over 400 guests expected to attend. Most importantly, the event was dedicated to raising money to educate and serve ovarian cancer patients, survivors, caregivers, and those not yet, but soon to be touched by “the monster.” I knew I had to be part of it, even though it was on the other side of the country in Washington DC and I live in Los Angeles. I made a few phone calls to the great OCNA staff and found out the fare I prepared and served could be simple, and so I signed up. I knew my samplings had to be simple, because I had no commercial kitchen at my disposal, was dragging whatever cooking supplies I needed cross country on a plane, and would be prepping in a hotel room kitchen. Yikes! But still I knew I wanted to be part of it, as the memory of having had this disease and the journey to prevent it in others has become a part of me. I signed up in October; the “gig”’ was not until the following February, so I had plenty of time to figure out the logistics of the thing. February arrived in what seemed like a nanosecond.
I planned on preparing black olive tapenade, hummus, and homemade baked corn chips. I found a reasonably priced hotel suite with a kitchen in Virginia, just a few miles away. I called ahead to a restaurant supply store whose manager was kind enough to give me a one day pass so I could buy large quantities of olives and garbanzo beans. I packed two, very large suitcases, with everything from a Cuisinart food processor, to utensils, to bowls, to tahini (just in case I couldn’t find it in DC). Needless to say there was a TSA notice in both of my bags when I arrived in Washington stating that they had opened up both bags and inspected them for my security. They must have thought “What the H?” as my bags went through their scanner. The hotel suite staff could not have been nicer or more accommodating. The suite kitchen was adequate and would work out. My oldest and dearest friend, Kay, whom I’ve known since we were teenagers, drove in from New Jersey to help. Everything was lined up and a go for the gala on Wednesday, February 18th . We cooked all day in the tiny hotel room. I literally baked 2000 chips! Yes, it was a lot of work, but also yes, we had a lot of laughs. Kay and I have shared so much throughout our years of friendship, including my cancer journey, this was just one more rung on “friendship ladder.” Quite frankly, eleven years ago when I got my diagnosis at the age of 52, I don’t think either one of us thought we would be together, laughing cooking chips, in a small hotel room 11 years later.
My initial diagnosis was thought to be lymphoma, as the cancer was evident in so many lymph nodes. After more testing, I was more accurately diagnosed with late-stage, fallopian-tube cancer and given a 15% chance of survival and a 75% chance of recurrence. It looked grim. I knew I had to do all I could to help myself, so in conjunction with traditional treatment, I began researching food and its relationship to cancer. I changed my diet, and I believe in so doing I helped save my life. I wound up writing The Ultimate Anti-Cancer Cookbook, because I wanted to share my research with others, and I believe that eating healthfully can make a significant difference. I also believe that you don’t need to hunt for exotic things to eat. You can stay healthy eating regular food from your local grocery store. For me, healthy food and fighting cancer absolutely belong together, one more reason I had to be involved in the occasion.
The event itself was an elegant, lovely affair. It was a black-tie, first class affair, and it did my heart good to see it and to be a part of it. What impressed me most about the evening, as I had the pleasure of talking to many folks who came up to my table (Food Network’s Melissa D’Arabian being one), was the presence of so many healthy people there trying to make a difference. Sure, I expected to see cancer patients and/or their families who came to support the cause. But mostly there were healthy people, who had not yet been touched by this disease, and just wanted to contribute their time and their resources. The loving, generous, good spirit of good people never fails to surprise me. I always want to see ovarian cancer research supported because for years we have been the “also ran” to breast cancer in terms of raising money and awareness. Many more women get breast cancer, so of course, more money and attention tends to go there. However, ovarian cancer is statistically so much more lethal and it needs the important attention too. So I was absolutely thrilled to see the enthusiasm and support for our cause on that snowy (yes, there was a blizzard that night) Feb. 18th evening. I talked to cancer patients, and cancer patient’s parents, supportive husbands, and loved ones who recently or not so recently lost relatives to ovarian cancer. I did also speak at length to Calaneet Balas, OCNA’s CEA about who I was and what she and I were both trying to accomplish.
In the end, as I repacked my suitcases the next morning in my little hotel suite for my trek back to Los Angeles, I was exhausted yet exhilarated by the human spirit. Yes, there are awful people in the world who seem to always usurp the headlines, but there are so many more wonderful people in this world, who just chug along day after day, doing the right thing and making a difference. I was lucky enough to have survived my cancer journey to join and meet so many of them at the 10th Annual Turn Up The Heat gala. Although I was cooking corn chips in my sleep for days afterwards, I’d do it again in a heartbeat! Chef and Cookbook Author Pam Braun generously shares a recipe from her The Ultimate Anti-Cancer Cookbook:
Tomato Herb Bisque
This soup couldn’t be any easier to make. Everything just gets plunked into a blender and pureed. My next door neighbor declared, “That tomato soup was the best soup I ever had in my life!” Fresh herbs make this soup a winner. The taste is gourmet, but the preparation couldn’t be simpler. Tomatoes are a carotene-rich food, and studies confirm that eating more carotene-rich foods will reduce not only your risk of cancer, but also your risks of heart disease, hypertension, and stroke.
2 (14-ounce) cans fat free chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, undrained
1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, undrained
1 (15-ounce) can diced fire roasted tomatoes
1 (15-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
¼ cup chopped curly parsley
¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
¼ cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 large red pepper, quartered
1 large orange pepper, quartered
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons raw brown sugar
1 cup nonfat milk
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 small hot pepper, diced, seeds removed (optional)
Salt and pepper
This soup is a bit unusual, as it gets blended first, then cooked. All of the ingredients will not fit into one blender carafe, so you will have to fill twice. Place ½ of the broth, garbanzo beans, pinto beans, and red pepper into a blender and puree until the mixture is smooth (with hot pepper if desired). Pour into a soup pot.
Place the remaining broth, orange pepper, diced tomatoes, and crushed tomatoes, both types of parsley, basil, cilantro, garlic, oregano, and balsamic vinegar into blender and blend until mixture is smooth. Pour into soup pot. Add brown sugar. Bring soup to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes.
In a small cup, dissolve cornstarch in milk. Bring soup back up to a boil and slowly whisk in cornstarch mixture. Soup will thicken slightly. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.
Serves 6-8. For more information on Pam Braun, other female chefs who participated, and the event, please click HERE.